Posted Online: Dec. 02, 2012, 6:00 am

Editorial: Good pick, bad process

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

There really wasn't anything all that unusual in the Black Hawk College Board decision last week to call closed sessions to talk about how to tab a new member for that elected body.

And that is, perhaps, the most troublesome thing about it.

It is the all-too common inclination of some public bodies here in the Quad-Cities and elsewhere in Illinois to do more of the public's business behind closed doors than they should. Panels governing schools may, however, be the most consistent offenders.

Not that we are criticizing Black Hawk College trustees' decision Thursday to tab Larry Lorensen to replace former trustee Sonia Berg, whose resignation took effect Nov. 15. The opposite, in fact. Few know the college better than the former Moline mayor who has taught there for 35 years and has served on one of the school's foundations. His temporary appointment runs through the April 2013 election, which could give voters the chance to choose the person to fill the spot.

But this wise choice does not make the process by which it was made any more palatable. Rather than justify holding two closed sessions to arrive at this smart pick, the result of the behind-closed doors selection highlights just how unnecessary it was to do it secretly.

Indeed, we continue to believe using closed sessions to discuss the timing and the process of selection clearly violated the state's Open Meeting Act. So does Don Craven, the sunshine law expert who serves as attorney for the Illinois Press Association.

Neither the board's belated release Wednesday of a synopsis of the closed session, nor its welcome choice of Mr. Lorensen after another closed session on Thursday negates the concerns raised here.

Why should you care that trustees didn't appear to trust you with such critical details?

Let's start with the huge responsibility members of boards like this one carry for you; not just for your tax dollars -- though they are certainly significant -- but in guiding a vast segment of our population's future. Shouldn't taxpayers know what kind of person the trustees are looking for to help them in that quest?

What about diversity of opinion? Was the board seeking someone who would rubber stamp decisions of veteran trustees and college staff? Perhaps trustees were doing exactly the opposite. The public has a right to know. So do potential candidates who might be interested in running in April to fill the spot. Doesn't it seem likely that the voters would have a far larger pool of good candidates from which to choose if the board offered the public an idea of what kind of board member the panel is looking for?

Indeed, we can't image a good reason for NOT publicly debating such weighty matters.

If Illinoisans had wanted elites to run their grade, high school and community college boards, they wouldn't have made the offices elected ones. We'd let those who believe they know better than the rest of us make such choices. If a board can decide in secret the details for finding a new board member, doesn't it amount to the same thing?

Such secrecy also does little for a board's credibility. If trustees go into closed session to discuss something as seemingly innocuous as what kind of characteristics they'd like to see in a board member whom, we presume, must eventually stand for election, what else might they be discussing away from the public's prying eyes?

We're not suggesting that Black Hawk College trustees were up to no good. Indeed, we have the utmost respect and gratitude for these hardworking public servants who choose to take on such tough, unpaid jobs that put them in the public eye.

Nor are we saying that they don't have the best interests of their constituents at heart. Indeed, the board's choices here seemed to prove that they do.
And that's why we find it so troubling when public bodies so easily choose to close the public out of key decision making processes.

Indeed, little good can come of fostering a culture of secrecy-first. So, why do it?